Household War: Rethinking the Warfront during the American Civil War

AHA Session 33
Society of Civil War Historians 1
Thursday, January 7, 2016: 3:30 PM-5:30 PM
Grand Hall D (Hyatt Regency Atlanta, Lower Level 2)
J. Matthew Gallman, University of Florida
J. Matthew Gallman, University of Florida

Session Abstract

This panel recasts the American Civil War as a contest grounded in the household.  Each paper discusses the ways in which the household served as a basic building block in the struggle between competing armies and nations.  In particular, this panel addresses how the war flowed from, required, and resulted in the restructuring of the household.  In the process, the panel breaks down the divide that too often separates home front and warfront into separate entities and demonstrates the ways in which the mobilization and waging of war led men and women to experience them as unified instead.

            Historians generally consider the household, women, and gender relations as auxiliary to the formal field of battle.  In this standard approach, battles and armies shaped the basic contours of the home front and women’s wartime contributions as heads of households or as waged workers are viewed through the lens of freeing their men to fight at the war front.  This panel seeks to rebalance this equation by examining the ways in which the center of the war actually revolved around the home front and, specifically the household and household relations.  Although historians still generally consider the household, the home front, and civilians as auxiliary to the conduct and outcome of the war itself, historians now recognize that the leading cause of the Civil War was rooted in household relations, especially whether or not households should be built around slavery.  They also understand that the outcome of the war necessarily resulted in the struggle over how to reestablish households that were free of slavery.  These papers show some of the ways in which the war itself was fought primarily in, through, or as an extension of the household and household relations. 

            Reframing the war to consider the household as an originating point in the war, rather than an auxiliary to it, allows us to see “occupation” as a war in its own right. In this vein, panelists will consider the many ways in which the war continued and even escalated with Union occupation. LeeAnn Whites’ paper on the domestic supply line will demonstrate the vital impact of women’s home front work for their soldier sons.  Lisa Tendrich Frank will explore how the Union army, recognizing that the homefront and the household were indeed not only a war front but arguably the critical war front in winning the war in its entirety, pursued a policy that took aim at white Southern households and particularly at elite white Confederate women.  Similarly, Margaret Storey’s paper makes the case for Union women’s occupation of Confederate women’s homes as an act of war with serious political consequences.

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